Network Switches Explained: Everything You Need to Know [all in one place]

W. Clayton Pate III
23SEP2022

In this post we explain network switches and how they work. Here we are discussing everything you need to know in order to understand what network switches are, why they are important to you, and how switches work in a network. Network switches are an essential part of networking infrastructure, but they can be complex and confusing. This is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about network switches.

What is a network switch?

A network switch is a device that allows different devices on a network to communicate with each other. It acts as a bridge between two or more devices, forwarding traffic between them.

Note: For the definitions of terminology found in this post see the section: “Making sense of the terms.”

Switches can be used to connect different types of devices, including computers, printers, and servers. They can also be used to connect different networks, such as a local area network (LAN) and a wide area network (WAN).

How do switches work?

Switches use a process called packet switching to forward traffic between devices. When a switch receives a packet, it looks at the destination address and forwards the packet to the correct device.

Packet switching is an efficient way to forward traffic because it reduces the amount of time that a device must wait for its turn to transmit. It also reduces the number of collisions, which can occur when two devices try to transmit at the same time.

How does this information apply to you?

It is important to understand network switches and how they can benefit your business. Depending on the size of your business and the amount of traffic on your network, you may need a different type of switch. See our post

“Finding the Right Switch for You: Comparing Cisco Switches to Optimize Your Network.”

How can a switch be used for your company?

There are many benefits to using a switch in your network. Switches can help improve performance by creating separate collision domains. This allows each device on the switch to have its own dedicated bandwidth.

In addition, switches can provide security by isolating devices on different networks. Switches can also help save money by reducing the need for additional network cards or hubs.

Another benefit is that switches can provide a higher level of performance by using hardware-based switching techniques. This can offload the CPU and provide better throughput. Switches can also provide security features such as port security and MAC filtering.

Switches in Action!

A switch uses MAC addresses to forward data packets. MAC addresses are unique identifiers assigned to every device on a network. When a device sends a data packet, the packet includes the MAC address of the destination device. The switch looks up the MAC address in its table and forwards the packet to the port that is connected to the destination device.

A switch can also be used to create multiple subnets on a network. Where a subnet is a logical division of an IP network. A subnet consists of a network of computers that share a common address component. This is done by using virtual LANs (VLANs). A VLAN is a logical grouping of devices that are not necessarily physically connected to the same switch. Devices in a VLAN can communicate with each other as if they were on the same physical network even if they are not.

Switches can also be used to provide security on a network. For example, switches can be configured to prevent rogue devices from accessing the network or to isolate devices that have been infected with malware.

What is the difference between a Managed Switch and an Unmanaged Switch?

Unmanaged network switches are devices that simply connect network devices together. They do not manage or control the traffic that flows between those devices in any way. Instead, they simply provide a physical connection between devices and rely on the protocols and settings configured on those devices to control the flow of traffic. This makes unmanaged switches very simple to use and configure, but it also means that they are not as flexible or powerful as managed switches.

Managed switches are at layer 2 of the OSI model who provide an interface between various network segments (such as a subnet). They allow for the configuration of VLANs, port mirroring, and QoS policies. Managed switches also provide security features such as access control lists (ACL) and IEEE 802.1X authentication.

Would you use network switches in your business?

BuenaVista makes this easy as your IT Consultant and Managed Service Provider. Have a question? Contact us! You do not need to “know it all”, instead let us help you find peace of mind as we earn your trust and confidence through the services, we provide you.

Finishing Touches

Switches operate at either the data link layer (Layer 2) or network layer (Layer 3) of the OSI model. Switches for home and small office networks are typically desktop units with multiple Ethernet ports and a single uplink port to connect to the next higher-level switch or router. Larger switches may be deployed in rack-mounted enclosures. Enterprise core and distribution switches may be chassis-based units with multiple line cards that support various types of physical ports including Ethernet, fiber optic, and serial connections.

Switches are commonly categorized by the number of ports they have as well as the speed of the ports. For example, an 8-port switch with 10/100 Mbps ports would be considered an 8/10 switch. A 12-port switch with 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports would be considered a 12/10 switch.

Network switches are a vital part of any computer network. They improve performance by creating separate collision domains and can provide security by isolating devices on different networks. Switches can also help save money by reducing the need for additional network cards or hubs. When choosing a switch for your network, consider the size of your network, the types of devices you are using, and your budget.

Thank you for your interest in our content!

Making sense of the terms – Supporting Documentation

Servers - a computer that provides data to other computers. It may serve data to computers connected to it, or it may serve data to computers on the Internet.

Storage - a place to store data. It may be on a computer, on a server, or in the cloud.

network attached storage (NAS) - a type of storage that is attached to a network. It is often used to store data that is shared by multiple computers on the                                                                     network.

switch - a device that connects computers and other devices on a network.

routers - a device that connects two networks. It may also route data between computers on the same network.

firewalls - a device that controls access to a network. It may allow or block traffic based on certain criteria.

wireless access points (WAPs) - are devices that provide wireless access to a network.

cabling – is the physical connection between devices on a network.

Local Area Network – a network that is contained within a small geographic area, usually within the same building

The OSI Model – a model that defines how information is transmitted between devices on a network

data link layer - the layer of the OSI model that handles the physical connection between devices

network layer - the layer of the OSI model that handles the logical connection between devices

port - a physical connection point on a device that allows data to be transmitted in and out

uplink port - a port on a switch that is used to connect to another switch

Ethernet ports - ports on a device that are used to connect to an Ethernet network

MAC address - a unique identifier assigned to each device on a network

packet - a unit of data that is sent across a network

subnets - a smaller portion of a larger network

IP network - a network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication

rogue devices - devices that are connected to a network without authorization

IEEE 802.1X authentication - an authentication protocol that is used to verify the identity of users before they are allowed to access a network

port mirroring - a method of monitoring traffic on a network by copying all packets that pass through a specified port and sending them to another port for analysis

access control lists (ACL) - lists of rules that are used to control access to resources on a network

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